The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 1999/12/8

Q. Are you aware that, in this connection, Field-Marshal
Keitel was reproached with not being able to put himself
across, as they say, with the Fuehrer?

A. This reproach was made against him by quite a number of
Commanders-in-Chief and army groups. It was easy for them to
make that reproach because they were out of range of Adolf
Hitler, and did not have to submit any proposals themselves.
I know that, especially after the collapse, quite a number
of Generals took the position that Keitel had been a typical
"yes-man." I can only say I personally should be interested
if I could see those who to-day consider themselves "no-

Q. Was there ever, as far as Hitler was concerned, any
possibility of Field-Marshal Keitel getting released from
his office?

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Nelte, the Tribunal does not think - at
least we should like to ask you - what relevance does the
gossip of the General Staff, or any reproaches which may
have been raised against him by it, have to the charges
against Keitel? What has that to do with the charges against

DR. NELTE: If one wants to do justice to the defendant
Keitel, that is to say, if one wants to try to establish
what role he has played in this terrible tragedy, then that
is only possible if one establishes clearly what his
function was, and thereby what his responsibility was; and
then, if one takes the tactical conditions into
consideration -

THE PRESIDENT: I know that perfectly well, and we have spent
three-quarters of an hour in hearing the defendant Goering
describe what his relationship was and what Keitel's
function was. What I asked you was what this had to do with
the case, the criticisms or gossip of the General Staff
about Keitel? I say we have spent three-quarters of an hour
in hearing what the defendant Goering says his function was,
and what his relationships with the Fuehrer were, and
nothing else.

DR. NELTE: I began with the organisation of the O.K.W. I
wanted to determine the chain of command between the O.K.W.
and the Chief of the O.K.W.,

                                                  [Page 155]

on the one band, and the branches of the Wehrmacht, on the
other; and then I have tried to clarify the responsibilities
which, as Chief of the O.K.W., he was to have, according to
Hitler's wishes, and how he carried these out.

The gossip, Mr. President, was only, I believe, a subject of
a few minutes during the examination of the witness.

THE PRESIDENT: My interruption was made because you asked
the defendant a question about somebody being reproached for
something or other by the other members of the General
Staff, and that seems to me to be totally irrelevant.

DR. NELTE: The last question which I put was whether there
had been any possibility of Field-Marshal Keitel obtaining a
release from his position. May I assume, Mr. President, that
this question is relevant?

THE PRESIDENT: You may certainly ask the question as to
whether he asked to be relieved of his command.

As a matter of fact, Dr. Nelte, that question was asked
before, the question at which I interrupted you; and I have
the answer written down, that Keitel asked for a command,
even if only of a division.

DR. NELTE: That was the question which he put to Reich
Marshal Goering. He came to him, Goering, and put the
question to him. Now I want to ask whether there existed any
possibility of Keitel obtaining a release from his position
from Hitler?

A. The question whether a General could ask for and obtain
his release from the Fuehrer has played an important role in
these proceedings generally. Actually, one has to make a
distinction between two phases, peace and war.

In times of peace a General could ask for his release.
Unless he was in a prominent and decisive position and very
well known to the Fuehrer, such a request for release was
granted without question. If he were in an especially
important position and well known to the Fuehrer, then,
using all his persuasive powers, the Fuehrer appealed to him
with all the means at his disposal to remain at his post.
However, if a General had asked the Fuehrer for his release
and had given as reason that in principle he was of a
different political opinion, either domestic or foreign,
then without doubt he was retired, even if not on that very
day. But at the same time it would have given rise to an
extraordinary suspicion on the part of the Fuehrer toward
this person.

During the war, the matter was entirely different. The
General, like every soldier, was obliged to do his duty, to
obey orders. The Fuehrer had issued the statement that he
wanted no requests for release either from Generals or any
other important State personalities; he himself would decide
if a person were to resign or not; he himself could not
resign if it became unpleasant now; he considered that

If, nevertheless, a General had submitted a request for
release in war-time and this had been refused him, he
certainly could not insist upon it. If he resigned, in spite
of this, he violated the law and from this moment was guilty
of desertion.

Field-Marshal Keitel might have asked the Fuehrer, "Have me
transferred to a different office." But the Fuehrer
particularly disliked making any changes in his immediate
circle; and during the war - that I know from his own words
- he would not have agreed to a change, particularly with
regard to Field-Marshal Keitel, with whom he was used to
working, unless the Field-Marshal had become ill and hence
really unable to continue his duties.

Q. Were these considerations of which you have just spoken
likewise the determining factor in the retirement of Field-
Marshal von Brauchitsch?

A. The case of Field-Marshal von Brauchitsch's retirement is
very well known to me, because the Fuehrer had discussed it
at length with me beforehand; for at first he was not
decided whether he or someone else should take over the
command of the Army. Thus we discussed candidates for the
succession, and so forth. At that moment the Fuehrer was not
satisfied with the direction of the

                                                  [Page 156]

Army by the Commander-in-Chief on the Eastern Front. The
Commander-in-Chief was Brauchitsch; the Chief of the Army
General Staff was Halder. I suggested to the Fuehrer that he
change the Chief of the Army General Staff, because I
thought he was by far the less capable. The Fuehrer wanted
to do that; then the next morning he had made up his mind
and told me that he, the Fuehrer, wanted himself to assume
this command, to bring about order on the Eastern Front, and
that therefore it was for him more important to retire the
Commander-in-Chief, although he agreed with me that the
Chief of Staff was the weaker one. Then I suggested that
both be dismissed.

The Fuehrer called Brauchitsch, talked with him for two
hours and requested him in a clear way, that is in a way not
to be misunderstood, to resign.

Thus, in this case, a clear decision was made by the Fuehrer
to dismiss the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, in order to
assume, personally, command of the Army. From that time on,
the Fuehrer was not only Supreme Commander of the Armed
Forces but also de facto Commander-in-Chief of the Army.

Q. The prosecution has stated and has produced evidence that
Field-Marshal Keitel was a member of the Reich Defence
Council (Reichsverteidigungsrates). You spoke of this
question yesterday. And I can now state that you said that
Field-Marshal Keitel was a member of the Reich Defence
Council according to he Reich Defence Law, but that this
Reich Defence Council was never constituted. You ought to
know that because you were, according to that law, chairman
of that Reich Defence Council. Is that correct?

A. I have stated clearly that I never attended a meeting,
nor called a meeting.

THE PRESIDENT: You know, do you not, that the Tribunal is
directed to hold an expeditious trial and for that reason
they are not going to hear cumulative evidence? The
defendant has already given us an answer to the question you
have just put to him. The Tribunal do not wish to hear the
same answer again.

DR. NELTE: I have not yet seen yesterday's transcript, and
it is of great importance for the defendant Keitel -

THE PRESIDENT: You were in court and you can take it from me
that the answer was given.

DR. NELTE: The questions and the answers are not always as
clear as they may seem on reading the transcript.

Q. Can you tell me whether Field-Marshal Keitel was ever a

A. He was not a Minister. He had only the courtesy rank of a

Q. Was he entitled to participate in Cabinet meetings?

A. Not by virtue of his position; but, in questions of
interest to him which pertained to his work, he could be
invited by the Fuehrer to attend Cabinet meetings.

Q. Keitel was a member of the Ministerial Council for the
Defence of the Reich. Did that make him a Minister?

A. No, he remained the same. He had only the rank of a
Minister. Field-Marshal Keitel could not attend Cabinet
meetings of the Reich Cabinet because be became Chief of the
High Command only in 1938, and from that time on no Cabinet
meetings took place.

Q. The prosecution have also asserted that there was a
triumvirate, consisting of the Plenipotentiary-General for
Economy, the Plenipotentiary-General for Administration, and
the Chief of the O.K.W. Can you tell us something about

A. I know nothing about that.

Q. The prosecution have accused Field-Marshal Keitel of
having been a political General. Do you know anything about

A. The Generals in the Third Reich had no right whatsoever
to participate in any political activity. The only exception
in this respect was myself - and that was due to the
peculiar nature of my position, for I was at the same time,

                                                  [Page 157]

soldier, a General, and on the other hand, in politics, a
politician. The other Generals, as the Fuehrer always very
clearly pointed out, had nothing to do with politics.

The General who interested himself most in politics was the
late Field-Marshal von Reichenau. That was the reason the
Fuehrer, in spite of his personal sympathies and the
strongly positive attitude of Reichenau toward the Nazi
Party, refused to make him Commander-in-Chief of the Army
after the resignation of Fritsch; the Fuehrer did not want
any political Generals.

Q. But it cannot be denied that in the so-called decrees
often the political objective was made known, and that such
decrees and orders were signed by Keitel.

A. Decrees were principally Fuehrer decrees, because they
contained broad directives. The preamble of an important
decree very commonly was the political premise which
explained why the Fuehrer had decided on this or that
military measure. But that has nothing to do with a General
being political.

Q. The prosecution have frequently mentioned that the
defendant Keitel was present at State receptions, such as
that accorded Hacha, and at other ministerial receptions.
From that they have tried to deduce that he was a political

A. When the Fuehrer, as Head of State, received foreign
missions, heads of States, or chiefs of Governments, it was
customary for the chiefs of his most important offices to be
present: the Chief of the State Chancellery, frequently of
the Reich Chancellery, depending on who came; and the Chief
of the High Command, since, in the conferences, questions
might come up for which the Fuehrer would need military
information of some kind. And then, of course, there was
also a certain ceremony involved. Whenever I had important
visitors, my military staff or a representative of the staff
was also with me.

Q. May I say, then, that Field-Marshal Keitel was present
at, but did not participate in, the conferences?

A. If he participated, it was not, at any rate, of any

Q. The prosecution stated that, on the occasion of the visit
of President Hacha, the defendant Keitel exerted pressure on
President Hacha by threatening to bomb Prague.

A. I said yesterday that I made that statement.

Q. I just wanted to establish it.

Now I should like further to question you concerning the
"terror flyers." Do you remember that about the middle of
June, 1944, when negotiations on this question took place
among the various departments, you were waiting at the
Platterhof with Field-Marshal Keitel for Hitler and there
discussed this question?

A. I cannot say whether that was at the Platterhof. At any
rate, I talked with the Field-Marshal many times on the

Q. It is important in this connection to establish whether
the defendant Keitel approached you on this question, and
stated to you that he was against the idea of lynch justice,
which was advocated by the Party.

A. He said that several times. We were in agreement on this.

Q. Did the defendant Keitel at that time also state to you
that he was in favour of an official warning or a note to
the Allied Governments - in respect to the well-known Dieppe
case - rather than separate court-martial procedures without
legal evidence?

A. I think we had frequent discussions on this point. I
advocated that in the case of pure terror flyers - that is
to say, those who violated the orders of their own superiors
- there should be legal proceedings. Keitel said it would be
hard to differentiate cases and to carry this out. It would
be more practical to send a note to the Allies to the effect
that, if it were not stopped, measures would have to be
taken. The view that this course should be adopted was also
advocated in other quarters.

                                                  [Page 158]

DR. NELTE: Mr. President, on submitting my applications for
evidence, I proposed, among other things, a characterisation
of Field-Marshal Keitel given me by Goering. In the session
of 25th February an agreement was reached with the
prosecution that this characterisation, which is in the form
of an affidavit, might be submitted in the presence of the
witness, that is, Goering. Am I now permitted to read you
this characterisation of which you have already received the
original, or may I refer to it as evidence and merely file
it with you?

I ask this question because a part of the description which
is contained in the affidavit has already been expressed by
this witness in this interrogation.

THE PRESIDENT: What is the document to which you are
referring? What is the origin of it? Is it a document drawn
up by the defendant Goering?

DR. NELTE: It is an affidavit Signed by Goering, entitled
"Characteristics of Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel." It is
referred to in my applications as an affidavit. Much of what
is contained in it has already been said by Reichsmarschall

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